Ballet brings beloved characters to life on stage

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

Watching Stevan Grebel’s holiday production of “The Nutcracker” at Pelham High School’s auditorium is a magical experience. The captivating performance elevates the audience into what has been a holiday tradition for so long that many wonder whether it was first a story or a ballet.

In fact, German writer E. T. A. Hoffmann first published the story in 1816. Russian composer Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov adapted the story for the stage in 1892. Beautiful children’s picture books exist today detailing the story through authors’ words and the illustrators’ artistry. So why watch stories performed on stage as ballet?

Pelham’s own Hal Brown (here with his children Ava and Davis), Ballantrae Golf Course’s general manager, played Mother Ginger in Stevan Grebel’s Holiday production of “The Nutcracker.” (Contributed)

Ballet transcends language, culture and geography to unite the audience on the level of the human experience. As the story opens in a traditionally decorated home at Christmas, the children’s excitement is perfectly expressed through the art of dance. The emotion, so difficult to capture in words, is apparent. While writing to transport the audience into a dream-state feels absurd, changes in scenery, costuming and the transformation of toys into moving, life-size characters works naturally on stage as audiences assimilate themselves into the magic created by music and motion.

The apparently effortless movement defying gravity makes all other magic believable on stage.  Incredible leaps performed with precision, dancers who meld together seamlessly creating one dance—if those apparitions can be real—then so can everything else.

After all, isn’t that what artistry is—working so hard on a piece or performance for so long that it appears effortless, is buoyed with emotion and provides audiences a new perspective?

Hal Brown who is Ballantrae Golf Course’s general manager, played the Grebel production’s traditional community role of Mother Ginger. An athlete himself, Brown’s comment after attending rehearsals and the performances was revealing.

“This was a learning experience. I learned that these dancers work hard,” Brown said.

Exactly—the dancers work to exhaustion transforming their athleticism into artistry. Only passion drives us to work with such commitment that we become magic-makers allowing our audiences new perspective. May we all enjoy holidays complete with the hard work of magic-making.